The Rev. Pamela Lightsey is a liberationist, a war veteran and the first out black queer lesbian woman ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church. Her social justice activism knows no bounds: She works to eradicate oppressed communities by fighting sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and more.
At 2 p.m. August 17 in the Hall of Philosophy, Lightsey will discuss the impact of war on people of color in her lecture: “Honorably Discharged to Dishonorable Conditions: Moral Injury and Black Veterans.”
Lightsey joined the military because her family couldn’t afford college. She said the decision less about patriotism than poverty and the desire for education.
Her lecture today will address the ethical dynamics of that recruitment of young persons of color into the military, and also the social, economic and emotional challenges they face when they return home, especially when dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or moral injury.
“This is not a new conversation. This is in some ways a historical conversation that African-Americans have had with the United States government for quite some time,” Lightsey said. “The desire to serve one’s country and the return home, and the challenges of returning home after serving in war zones and being met with the challenges of racism, poverty and of marginalization.”
Lightsey’s son is a military veteran who suffered from moral injury upon returning from Iraq, and in her lecture she will detail some of his struggles that she witnessed firsthand. Lightsey said there are plenty of systems for military personnel to get support from PTSD, but it’s more difficult for issues such as moral injury.
Lightsey is an activist within the LGBTQ community who worked to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy. She also uses her academic knowledge of Scripture to argue against homophobia in religious communities.
Lightsey’s most recent social justice activism is with Black Lives Matter. She spent the first 21 days of unrest in Ferguson protesting police violence. She was concretely aware of the tear gas, pepper spray and sounds of guns being fired that surrounded her.
Lightsey said she doesn’t “walk away from any of these situations unscathed.”
“The impact it’s had on my own life seems continuous — it seems like this conversation of struggle is so repetitive. It’s like it’s on repeat in the psychosis of our nation, that it’s seemingly impossible to stop this repetition of pain and oppression,” Lightsey said. “That, in and of itself, means that emotionally I’m always seeking ways to renew myself from this constant trauma and triggering that goes on.”
Lightsey often engages in spiritual practices and attends counseling to deal with that struggle. She currently works as associate dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University, and she often takes time off after activism before coming back to work.
Intense social justice work requires a lot of self-care for Lightsey, but it also takes deep motivation. Lightsey said her faith continues to inspire her work to eradicate bigotry in the world.
“It’s not possible for me to talk about not participating in social justice, because the task of a Christian believer is a task that propels us to work toward the beloved kingdom, which Dr. King talked about,” Lightsey said. “We will find ourselves as believers in sometimes unimaginable places, but we do it because we believe that God has called us first of all, and secondly that God has equipped us for the task at hand.”
But unlike many social justice activists, Lightsey fights her battles from within the church. The process has been a long journey.
“It’s a difficult journey, because I’m actually addressing what is for many people the cradle of our faith experience as the church,” Lightsey said. “And so to fight bigotry within the walls of the church is a very difficult matter, but I do it because I love the church and I want the church to be what God has called the church to be.”